Bee Train’s bullet ballet Phantom is really good

Welcome

Bee Train doesn’t exactly have the best of reputations, be it their bias for girls with guns or their notoriously poor production values, fact is their work polarises opinion and attracts its fair share of detractors.

I’ve seen neither Noir nor Madlax, was horrified by the low budget vibe I got from Blade of the Immortal and nearly quit watching anime altogether after sitting through the first episode of El Cazador de la Bruja. I know many others share these same ‘concerns’, so I’m going to write something now that may shock and appall many:

Bee Train‘s latest series, Phantom, is really good.

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In a land far away, there was a monster without a name

Around this time of year, I suppose many of us are guilty of watching a lot of mediocre and predictable anime because it’s new and shiny, but for me, that’s a waste of time; Monster might have aired in the spring of 2004, but it will always be great. If you haven’t seen it, drop everything else and have a look-see.

Via AWESOME ENGINE, a 35-second teaser for the live action 20th Century Boys has appeared online. It’s so short, but still, I can hardly contain my excitement for this. Why? Despite that it’s set to become the most expensive Japanese film project of all time; I’m captivated because it’s an adaptation of Naoki Urasawa‘s manga (of same name).

I’ll put my neck on the line and say that Urasawa‘s Monster is probably the best anime not yet released on DVD in the US and/or Europe (it was close run thing with Honey & Clover). Unlike the vast majority of this ‘stuff’ we love, someone could place Monster alongside The Wire or 24 in TV schedules and it wouldn’t look out of place; given a fair chance, I really believe that his style of writing would destroy this seemingly pervasive notion that all animation is intended for kids and geeks alone; just a pipe dream of mine, really.

The above video is from episode 37 of Monster and watching it now, I’m reminded just how much I loved it. Around this time of year, I suppose many of us are guilty of watching a lot of mediocre and predictable anime because it’s new and shiny, but for me, that’s a waste of time; Monster might have premiered back in the spring of 2004, but it will always be great. If you haven’t seen it, pause everything else and have a look-see.

Black Lagoon – 13 – People call it spinal reflex

Madhouse Studios have an exceptional talent for adapting manga – BECK, Monster and now Black Lagoon, they clearly devote a lot of careful thought to developing a specific style for their works; almost inevitably, they craft absolutely unique anime. I feel safe in saying that Black Lagoon’s flair for attention grabbing will never fade, such is it’s commitment to ass kicking, it is a series willing to twist the boundaries of bad taste, adding layer after layer of extreme and unbelievable material, naturally showing a complete disregard of human life.

Consider incestuous, cannibalising, underage twins from Europe. They carry axes and have sweet little dolls tied to their massive machine guns. They are clearly insane. Cute, but insane. They commit depraved acts, but what is truly chilling is that they are simply kids – innocent by nature, they are none the less completely lost in and exploited by the darkness that surrounds them.

Balalaika and even Revy (as cool as they look) are obviously killers themselves, but would one consider them evil? They show an emotional restraint in their bloody and brutal work, but if they took on the same job as “the Twins”, of course they would eventually rub out their targets all the same. But because we have seen them with their feet up, drinking beer and joking with friends, we recognise a glint of their humanity, instinctively we know that deep down, they have feelings just like you and me. The twins offer no such empathy; show no emotion in context with their disgusting acts, so it’s them that are the monsters. Apparently. Body count is irrelevant.

Black Lagoon is still just as fun as ever – there is a loveable black humour and corny kitsch value to be found in such an over-top bunch of episodic villains, and despite the animation (particularly character designs) looking strangely inconsistent, you just can’t beat this show for a good ol’ fashioned shoot out.

Black Lagoon – 12 – BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

So that’s it then, no more Black Lagoon for (at a guess) a couple of years. I really loved watching this series; after a hard day at work, when it’s a tough ask to even keep your eyes open let alone watch and read anime, Black Lagoon shone like a bloodied beacon of hope. I knew no matter how tired, or how jaded, I could enjoy watching this.

That’s what Black Lagoon meant to me. It didn’t carry much emotional weight, but it had episode titles like “Guerrillas in the Jungle” and “Rasta Blasta”. There is something so attractive about its zero pretension; it’s somewhat fun to see when a series is so honestly and passionately devoted to just thrilling the viewer from start till finish. It’s fan-service, but in a broader sense (not in the moe – killer loli – panty shot – harem sense) – taking it’s cues from the Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Damme era of 1980s action, Black Lagoon was a consistent, balls against the wall action series with little or no regard for human life. It’s great.

If I didn’t know a second season of Black Lagoon was coming, I would feel somewhat deflated by this final episode. Of course- it pays off with the now-expected-during-every-episode kick ass action; in particular, ninja woman throwing around her giant machete on a rope is a high point, but then it just ends. We don’t even get to see Dutch. Hints are made about the second season (American CIA agents talk to Revy as if she has trained with them in the past, the Japanese Guerrilla survives to fight another day), and basically it ends with the feeling of just another episode. So much so I waited for the next episode preview, but alas nothing appeared. My anticipation of the second season starts now.

I love a lot of anime and technically, so much of it is superior to Black Lagoon – but I just know that if I had to choose one anime series, over almost everything else I’ll happily watch Black Lagoon again and again. BOOOOOM! HEAD SHOT!

Black Lagoon – 11 – The prelude to carnage

After the previous couple of unrelenting maid bashing episodes, the eleventh instalment of Black Lagoon was always going to seem a tad watered down in comparison. And so it proves- the penultimate “Lock’n Load Revolution” has more talking than shooting, and is almost entirely aimed at building up an initially convoluted race between an ambitious group of idealistic terrorists, a somewhat traditional (testicle cracking) Chinese triad (in cooperation with the CIA!) and in the middle of it all is of course our Lagoon.

If I have a problem with Black Lagoon it is that the characterisation has taken a vacation. It’s now more like watching Hellsing (though a lot better) – wondering who or what monsters will be facing Revy next. As fun as it is to see some crazy Chinese mafia bloke kick a grenade into a group of hapless grunts, Black Lagoon somewhere along its war path has lost that underlying emotional catharsis and is vainly trying to cover itself with one too many trendy gimmicks. In short, it’s getting a wee bit episodic. Still fun, but lacks a human bite.

Black Lagoon – 10 – The unstoppable chambermaid

There are many ways to settle a score and none better than an old fashioned dust up; I think this qualifies as the first time I’ve ever seen two women literally beat the shit out of each other with their bare knuckles. None of this pulling hair and scratching with their nails nonsense; if Black Lagoon is going to have a face-off between the two toughest women in the world, you better expect more than a few pinches.

So episode 10 marks the end of the “Unstoppable Maid” arc; emotionally it added nothing to the series, but I’ll be damned if I come across another couple of anime episodes this year that look as red hot as this was. While firmly tongue in cheek and more than willing to poke fun at its own absurdity, I love that knowing wink Black Lagoon makes at the viewer. That and the slick homages to any number of classic Hollywood pop-corn movies- this time Terminator 2 being the obvious influence behind Ms. Roberta and her unstoppable quest.

Usually I can’t stand girls-with-guns anime, but Black Lagoon ditches any hint of dainty beauty and replaces it with a big fat “fuck you!”

Black Lagoon – 9 – T:1000, unstoppable maid edition

“You should have paid more attention to Rock’s joke, Benny-Boy.” Quips Dutch, a sweating shadow of his composed former self, having just seconds before been subjected to the vicious blood lust (and impossibly strong arms) of an ass-kicking maid from hell. “Imagine her as an invincible killer robot.”

The set up for this story arc is so simple and yet it works so well. Not since Spike crossed guns with Pierre Le Fou or Rock Lee went kung-fu on Gaara have I been so viscerally thrilled by an episode of anime. The fluidity of movement, the sense of an unstoppable power being unleashed, it’s all here, taken to school with a pumping electronic soundtrack, achingly cool aesthetics and the sheer absurdity of what is rapidly exploding infront of us.

This is all such a great fun because of the realistic ways in which the character’s react to their increasingly insane situations- it’s easy to see that Dutch and his crew are genuinely disturbed by the cute T-1000 (and her massive knife) chasing their moving car down the street, and as a viewer, this powerfully conveys the intense danger in which they find themselves.

Black Lagoon 9 is a jolting visceral experience, the kind of quirky action-packed genius Tarrentino would die to replicate, and as hard as I’ve tried, you can’t do justice to such a buzzing spectacle with mere words alone.